Although warfare between Englishmen for control of the government or possession of the Crown occurred from the 1450s to the 1490s, fighting was not continuous throughout the period. The military campaigns of the WARS OF THE ROSES were few, intermittent, and brief.
From the first Battle of ST. ALBANS in May 1455 to the Battle of STOKE in June 1487, adherents of the houses of LANCASTER and YORK engaged in thirteen major battles, such as those at TOWTON, BARNET, and BOSWORTH FIELD; several smaller encounters, such as the Battles of TWT HILL and HEXHAM; and numerous raids, rebellions, and assaults on castles. However, most of this fighting across a span of more than thirty years was compressed into a few active phases of two to three years, within which large armed forces were actually in the field for only a matter of weeks. The main periods of active campaigning occurred between the autumn of 1459 and the spring of 1461, the summer of 1469 and the spring of 1471, and in the autumn of 1483 and the summers of 1485 and 1487.
Being an island kingdom, England had not experienced the nearly continuous warfare that the HUNDRED YEARS WAR and other conflicts and rebellions had brought in the previous century to FRANCE, BURGUNDY, and other continental states. As a result, England lacked the standing armies (and the arbitrary taxation that supported them) that had developed in France under CHARLES VII and in Burgundy under Dukes PHILIP and CHARLES. The only ongoing military establishments in fifteenth-century England were a royal bodyguard of 200 archers created in 1468, the 1,000-man CALAIS garrison, and the forces raised at Crown expense by the wardens of the marches to defend the borders with SCOTLAND. The important role that elements of the Calais garrison had in the outcome of several battles, such as LUDFORD BRIDGE in 1459, illustrated how nonmilitarized England was.
This lack of military experience meant that England lagged behind the continent in the use of ARTILLERY and handguns and in the development of military fortification. Whereas an avoidance of pitched battle and a highly developed siegecraft characterized continental warfare, the Wars of the Roses witnessed almost no sieges, no sacks of major towns, little pillage or destruction of the countryside, and a series of brief campaigns and pitched battles, the winner of which usually gained immediate control of the government. In his MEMOIRS, the Burgundian chronicler Philippe de Commines observed that the English “were the most inclined to give battle” and that when fighting erupted in England “one or the other of the rivals is master within ten days or less” (Gillingham, p. 28). With sieges largely unnecessary and the problem of supply making it difficult to keep large armies in the field for long periods, active campaigning, as shown in the following table, occupied less than year and a half of the more than thirty-year period encompassing the Wars of the Roses.
Further Reading: Gillingham, John, The Wars of the Roses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Goodman, Anthony, The Wars of the Roses (New York: Dorset Press, 1981); Ross, Charles, The Wars of the Roses (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).